Movepool oddities: Farfetch'd or strokes of genius?

By TMan87.
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Seed Bomb Donphan by LifeisDANK

Art by LifeisDANK.


Pokémon, before being the competitive strategy game we all know and love, is originally a creative display of creatures ranging from adorable to awe-inspiring. Some of them don't have much backstory behind them: Spearow is, well, a sparrow. Flabébé is a tiny flower spirit. Garchomp is a land shark.

Sometimes, though, whether you were just curious or trying to optimize the moveset of one of your trump cards for your next battles, you might have stumbled upon some moves that don't make much sense at first glance. Maybe it's a move that seems realistically speaking out of place. Maybe it's just its type or category that bugs you. Maybe you can't quite put your finger on what disturbs you, but it just does. In some cases Game Freak is just being Game Freak and slapping moves on Pokémon without much logic.

However, in a few cases, Game Freak actually did their research and added that one move that cannot be understood unless one starts to analyze things from a more cultural or scientific angle, which in some cases can actually turn out to be borderline genius. A small group of Smogonites decided to tackle this issue and shed light on some of the mysteries behind seemingly weird moves. Here are their conclusions, hopefully faithfully transposed by yours truly.

Pokémon Movepool Oddities: Explanation


Beheeyem: Steel Wing

Among the fresh new cast of Gen V, Elgyem and Beheeyem made quite a splash. While they already were Pokémon that were strongly believed to be aliens, such as Deoxys, Jirachi, and the much more common Cleffa evolution line, these two Pokémon were clearly referencing aliens, and traditional pop culture aliens no less.

Their movepool was rather classic in their debut generation, consisting mostly of the traditional Psychic- and Ghost-type moves with some elemental coverage to boot. But then Gen VI comes around, and a little "space" oddity found its place in their learnset, so discreet most people (including myself) may have overlooked it: in Gen VI and VII, they learn Steel Wing.

Looking at which Pokémon can learn Steel Wing, there is unsurprisingly an overwhelming majority of Flying-type Pokémon, in addition to some winged Pokémon (such as Latios) and Pokémon that could use a body part in lieu of wings anyway (such as Leavanny).

Now one could argue that aliens are usually depicted as arriving on Earth with flying saucers that are made of metal, thus "mimicking" steel wings, and it would be good reasoning. However, not only do I personally find the vision of a Pokémon summoning a flying saucer to attack a foe weird, but also maybe the truth actually is out there.

Gen VI shuffled some TMs around, creating room for new ones while dropping old ones. Steel Wing just so happened to be one of the former, which as a side note explains its surge in availability starting from there. If one were to look up the list of TMs in Gen VI or VII, they would find it sitting at number 51. That's right, since two generations, Steel Wing has been TM51. The fact that alien Pokémon (named "LGM" for "Little Green Men" and "BEM" for "Bug-Eyed Monsters") would be affiliated to the number 51 is considered by many a clever joke from Game Freak... but that's not even all there is to it!

Going back to Gen V, the TM list was different, and TM51 was not Steel Wing but Ally Switch, a move that did make sense back then as a Psychic-type support move in Beheeyem's movepool that consisted of many of these. Whether Game Freak forgot to remove Elgyem and Beheeyem from the TM51-compatible Pokémon list and decided to roll with it or they offered their own version of what happens in the mysterious area 51, we may never know...


Crawdaunt: Dragon Dance

Dragon Dance is one of the most powerful setup moves to exist to this day and the only Dragon-type status move. The kid that slumbers deep inside of every single one of us easily imagines this move as the privilege of fearsome, mystical monsters that wield enough power to erase whatever foolishness crosses their path should it provoke their wrath... and yet Game Freak granted it to Corphish and Crawdaunt as an Egg move.

This isn't the only time Dragon Dance has been given to a seemingly out-of-place Pokémon; the Scraggy line stands out. While the latter can at least be found in the Dragon Egg group on one hand, the Corphish line can only be found in the Water 1 and Water 3 Egg groups.

This fact is most likely due to Japan's neighbor China. In Chinese, the word for "lobster"—which Corphish and Crawdaunt definitely are—is written 龍蝦 and is pronounced "Lóngxiā". The word is composed of two characters, 龍 and 蝦. The first character, "lóng", means "dragon", while the second, "xiā", means "shrimp". Therefore, in Chinese, a lobster is considered a Dragon shrimp.

From a cultural point of view, even if I can't offer an explanation as to why Game Freak would use a reference so complex and far-reaching, it then makes sense for a Dragon shrimp to perform a Dragon Dance.


Donphan: Ice Shard, Gunk Shot, Seed Bomb

Donphan's movepool is actually pretty colorful once you see the Egg moves and Tutor moves it can get. The car tire has a few tricks up its sleeve and, while most of the moves it gets make sense, there are some other ones that seem like they don't really belong in its movepool at first glance.

Let's first dwell up two available Tutor moves: Gunk Shot and Seed Bomb. For a Pokémon whose whole shtick consists of rolling around at the speed of sound, firing detritus and seeds at a foe doesn't fit. That is, until you remember that Phanpy and Donphan aren't only based on car tires; they're also mainly derived from elephants.

Elephants are most known for their trunk, which is composed of pure muscle and can act similarly to a human arm. Besides, it is essential for them in order to drink water. The trunk has another role in an elephant's hygiene: it can spray water all over itself. The same applies to dust and seeds. Using this assertion as a basis, Seed Bomb is self-explanatory, while Gunk Shot would be Donphan either sucking up nasty liquid and throwing it at the foe with its powerful trunk, or even expelling its own nasal mucus in the foe's general direction.

Ice Shard is a premier attack on a competitive Donphan: it bypasses Donphan's mediocre speed and lets it finish off weakened foes. But once again, why does a pure Ground-type get an Ice-type attack by breeding? And once again, the answer is because it's an elephant.

Elephants are widely believed to be the descendants of mammoths. More accurately, elephants and mammoths most likely have a common ancestor. Individuals of the Mammuthus genus populated Africa 3 million years ago. Elephants and mammoths are closely related, phylogenetically speaking, which is why Phanpy and Donphan would be affiliated with mammoths. But wait, that's not enough for them to learn Ice Shard, is it? Surely it isn't, dear reader, but the last puzzle piece is from which evolutionary line they can obtain the move. If you guessed the Swinub line, then the finals this semester will be a breeze for you! It is indeed the Swinub line, the final evolution of which is an actual mammoth that passes this Egg move onto Donphan! A way to remember their lineage, perhaps?


Gogoat: Milk Drink

Previously Miltank's signature move, Milk Drink made sense on the gentle cow Pokémon: an all-female species derived from real-life cows would be the perfect fit for such a move. In Generation VI, however, Pokémon introduced the Skiddo evolution line, which became famous for two reasons.

The first reason was their ability Grass Pelt, which quickly faded from memories due to Grassy Terrain being a mere gimmick at the time. Fortunately, Tapu Bulu made its debut a generation later, but that didn't really make Gogoat shine either.

The most important aspect about Gogoat, however, was its entry into the very "select" club of Milk Drink users. This raised many eyebrows across the globe, as Gogoat is a mixed species, with a 50% chance of beting a male, yet all Gogoats are able to learn Milk Drink at level 58.

Now there is a bit of apparent logic behind Gogoat as a species getting Milk Drink: goat milk has been widely used since the dawn of mankind and is still used alongside cow milk. The question is: why wouldn't you make the species an all-female one once again, rather than giving Milk Drink to males?

In their article Structural and Ultrastructural Study of GH, PRL and SMT Cells in Male Goat by Immunocytochemical Methods, Vásquez et al. found out that male goats sometimes release hormones that alter cell differentiation in their fetal state, thus leading to goats with a perfectly normal male karyotype, yet with udders and the ability to lactate. Assuming Game Freak was aware of this fact, they probably jumped on the occasion to create a mixed species producing milk. Biology really is the science of wonders!


Groudon: Thunder

Groudon and Kyogre, foils to each other, destined to battle eternally until the planet either is nothing but land or submerged in water. They are more alike than they think, and one of their common points is the presence of Thunder in their movepool. It makes perfect sense with Kyogre: summoning rainstorms usually summons thunderclouds too, and a good storm cannot be real if it doesn't include a bit of thunder and lightning. But Groudon? The Legendary Pokémon that makes the sun shine brighter and brings drought to the world, which would obviously repel any cloud likely to bring rain and by extension thunder? Something is fishy here... or maybe it isn't.

Actually, thunderclouds are not the only way to see lightning crackling the sky. Groudon is closely associated to volcanoes, and large volcanoes at that (much bigger than Camerupt's, for example). It was sleeping in Mt. Chimney before Maxie decided to wake it up for his plans, and doing so also woke up the volcano itself. Volcanoes are classified in two sorts: effusive and explosive. Effusive volcanoes mainly release fluid lava upon eruption, and they are the popular depiction of a volcano. Explosive volcanoes, on the other hand, release much more ash and very viscous lava. The ash it releases can reach up to several kilometers above the crater and then slowly fall in a radius that, once again, can reach several kilometers. It is believed that simultaneous eruption of many volcanoes of this kind caused the volcanic winter that led to a great extinction several million years ago.

But enough geology, let's talk physics here. What happens inside the ash cloud that gets released whenever an explosive volcano erupts? Microscopic rock fragments, ash and other particles that got caught in the cloud collide, creating friction and static charges. When the charge reaches a critical threshold, all the energy is released, creating a bolt of lightning, just like in a thundercloud. Such a phenomenon is called a dirty thunderstorm. This would explain the presence of Electric-type moves in Groudon's movepool, such as Thunder and Thunder Wave.

Another important detail is that enough particles must be produced during the eruption and their speed has to be enough to accumulate enough energy to release lightning. This is why this phenomenon never occurs near smaller volcanoes—and probably why Camerupt doesn't learn it.


Hariyama: Brine

On one hand, you have Brine, a Water-type special move involving salty water (which is probably linked to sea water) used by many marine life-derived Pokémon. On the other hand, you have Hariyama, a physical Fighting-type Pokémon with little interest for special attacks. The two of them don't really sound like a perfect match, yet Hariyama learns Brine. Why is that?

Right before beginning the explanation, an important detail to point out is that Makuhita doesn't learn Brine, only Hariyama does. This all boils down to Hariyama's origin as a Pokémon. Hariyama is based on a sumo wrestler, which is noticeable through its general body shape—it also has Thick Fat as an ability—its oversized palms—used to pound at the opponent in sumo wrestling—and its haircut, called chonmage in Japanese and supposed to be reminiscent of haircuts worn by samurais during the Edo era.

Now that this is clear, where does Brine fit, you ask? The answer is: in the very codified ritual of sumo wrestling. A match between two sumotoris doesn't simply start with "Ready, set, go!" and then they begin. There are a few preparations to be made beforehand. Most people will know one gesture associated with sumo wrestling: lifting one leg, stomping it on the ground, and doing the same with the other, multiple times. This is part of a ritual to ward off demons, and the other part is throwing salt on the arena to purify it. The salt also acts as disinfectant should they injure themselves. As a nod to this tradition, Game Freak decided to add Brine, a move implying the use of salt, to Hariyama's movepool.

As an added bonus, the fact that Hariyama learns Belly Drum is based on yet another tradition: sumo wrestlers pound on their own belly and face to intimidate their opponent right before a match. Makuhita doesn't naturally learn Belly Drum, because it's not a full-fledged sumo wrestler yet!


Latias: Sucker Punch

This is another case of apparently complete incompatibility between a Pokémon and a move. Latias is a gentle, shy and specially-oriented Psychic-type Pokémon that was designed to be more defensive than her brother, and Sucker Punch is a physical Dark-type move implying the user fights dirty to achieve victory. Not the most obvious association, but like everything listed in this article, it has an explanation!

The first of two keys to understand why this move actually fits Latias like a glove is its Japanese original name, Fuiuchi, which roughly translates as "Surprise Attack". With this meaning, it sounds more like a calculated ambush than a dirty fighting style. The second key is Latias herself, and the rather unique properties she has. Her Pokédex entries are interesting:

Latias has the ability to render herself invisible. From there, it only makes sense that an invisible Pokémon would have little to no trouble ambushing a foe, using its power to launch a literal surprise attack on them.


Parasect: Sunny Day and Rain Dance

This is surely the least surprising entry of the bunch, as many Pokémon do get both Sunny Day and Rain Dance, and none of them are particularly odd. So, why Parasect in particular? Well, just look at the thing: it has a Bug / Grass typing, with Dry Skin as a possible ability. Rain Dance makes sense, but why would the poor Pokémon call forth the sun, which will only hurt it in the end?

The answer, once again, lies within its biology. From the day it was introduced in Gen I, most of its Pokédex entries mention the mushroom on its back having achieved total control and using the zombified bug to do its bidding.

Now, it isn't that much of a stretch to assume that the mushroom would use Parasect's power—read: its available moves—to achieve the best possible growth conditions. While fungi aren't the most demanding organisms, they have a range of temperature and hygrometry they thrive into. More precisely, the optimal growth temperature for most fungi is around 25°C (or 77°F), with a relative humidity greater than 75%, as fungi are known to grow best in damp places.

With that in mind, the mushroom on Parasect's back would probably use both Sunny Day and Rain Dance simultaneously in order to reach these two optima in order to maximize its growth rate: while Rain Dance is obvious, abusing it would cause the temperature to drop below 25°C, thus leading to a need in heat that is easily covered by Sunny Day.


Many Pokémon carry moves that are seemingly inadequate, and sometimes outright weird. More often than not, it's Game Freak giving them out a bit randomly, but sometimes, it actually is well thought out and refers to a particular cultural or scientific feat, or it is coherent with the Pokémon's lore.

Many mysteries are still lying within movepools of Pokémon across generations, and we can do nothing but wish the best of luck to the small team of Smogon brains that are trying to uncover them. Their base in the Orange Islands truly is the place to gather for those who seek knowledge and want to partake in such a humongous task.

HTML by The Dutch Plumberjack and TMan87.
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